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Twilight and Evening Star

St Michael's Church, Stanwix
19 October 2002

On Saturday, St Michael's Church in Stanwix was host to a world premiere. The Wordsworth Singers directed by Michael Hancock presented the first performance of Songs of the Night by Harold East.

The work is a darkly coloured setting of four poems that move from the haunted nights of childhood to the mysterious love of darkness and dreams and then emerges into the light of dawn as the shadows fly away. The moody darkness and the strong contrasts that the Singers conveyed must have pleased the composer, who was present.

There was an equally sensitive presentation of Thomas Pitfield's Night Music. The night begins with the eerie, noiseless trample of the horse's hooves beneath the glimm'ring moon, and ends in the easeful velvet walks of sleep. The performance drew out all the work's delicate impressionism.

The final work of the evening was Fauré's Requiem. The mood of darkness and fear and comfort had already been established by the preceding music, but, as the choir petitioned for eternal rest, we were made to feel the darkness of the abyss.

Georgina Harland sang the Pie Jesu with heartfelt tenderness and James Johnson made a profound appeal for salvation on the day of judgement. The choir concluded with the glorious light of the In Paradisum.

This was a concert that moved from darkness to light. Michael Hancock, with Charles Harrison on the organ, led the choir with a simplicity, sincerity and courage that made for a profound musical and spiritual experience.

Steve Matthews

Lunchtime Live

Carlisle Cathedral, Carlisle
24 September 2002

THE bass singers David Gibbs, Richard Hicks and Jim Johnson were the meat in a splendid lunchtime sandwich at the cathedral.

They sang three negro spirituals arranged by Dan-Olof Stenlund. Set either side of these was a selection of mostly English songs which are gradually becoming a hallmark of the
Wordsworth Singers. They began with April Is In My Mistress' Face by Thomas Morley, followed by Ah! Look Upon These Eyes by Palestrina and then two songs by Thomas Morley: Though Philomela Lost Her Love and My Bonny Lass She Smileth. Their conductor Michael Hancock told us that the often used refrain 'Fa-la-la-la-la' was an Elizabethan form of censorship so that added a little je ne sais quoi to the enjoyment of them. Particularly beautiful was Sweet Day, So Cool by Walter Carroll and To A Skylark by Edgar Bainton.

They finished their concert with two songs arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Dark-Eyed Sailor and with punch and panache Just As The Tide Was Flowing. The Wordsworth Singers have now become firmly established in the Cumbrian musical scene and I wish them much success with their Scottish tour.


020414romanceRomance is in the Air

Theatre by the Lake, Keswick
14 April 2002

"ROMANCE is in the Air" claimed the programme of the Wordsworth Singers, and three Monteverdi madrigals had everyone in agreement from the start.

But there were other delights to follow as prize-winning young violinist Emma Hancock delivered a stunning performance: Ravel's G-Major Sonata, and co-directors Michael Hancock and Charles Harrison dueted at the piano in a couple of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, including the haunting E-Minor waltz.  They also combined to accompany the choir in Brahms's Love-song Waltzes.

Alistair Hogarth showed pianistic brilliance in partnering Emma in Ravel's Sonata, if not quite her instinct for jazz.  Ravel became hooked on Gershwin's music after seeing Funny Face in New York and, given the right performers, as here, it shows.  The young duo also excelled in Tzigane.

With Michael Hancock up front and Charles at the piano, the choir sang the Gypsy Songs in style.  Being in love with Vienna becomes more difficult as the sequence of love-songs unfolds.  The phrasing really needs to take wing - a matter of linguistic and musical fluency.  But singers have lives to live and other concerts to deliver and overall there was so much to admire.  The crystalline quality of the sopranos topping such a well-blended ensemble in the Monteverdi piece remains an abiding impression.

Quick! We Have But A Second ran the unromantic encore, and the audience took the words literally, bursting in with premature applause.  It brought the proceedings down to earth with a bang and good humour all round.


Romance is in the Air

Maxwelltown High School
13 April 2002

A thrilling performance of a violin sonata by Maurice Ravel was the centre-piece of a concert given on Saturday by the Wordsworth Singers at Max High. The Sonata has been described as ‘difficult to play, and difficult to listen to’. Emma Hancock, the 20-year-old from Cumbria, made light of the technical difficulties - but also made things very easy for the listeners. Particularly enjoyable were the schmalzy ‘Palm Court’ moments in the second movement, titled Blues.

Cumbrian choir the Wordsworth Singers based their programme on the wide-ranging theme of Romance. This let them open with three unaccompanied madrigals by Monteverdi - an ideal palate-cleanser for the Violin Sonata that followed. However, it also led them to embrace (the word is appropriate) the delightful but slightly silly Liebeslieder (or Love Song) Waltzes by Brahms. Members of Dumfries Choral and the Dalgarno Singers, who formed much of the very select audience, were consumed with envy at the choir’s relaxed mastery of this varied material: even more so when we learnt that the concert had been preceded by just one day and one evening of rehearsal. It was probably this that gave the performances their freshness and vigour, with the obvious enjoyment of the performers crossing straight over into the audience. It also perhaps led to a couple of ragged line-endings, at a time when the choir's director was busy on the second piano-stool during the Brahms waltzes.

In the second half of the concert Emma Hancock performed Ravel’s Tzigane - a fiery virtuoso piece in gypsy style. In both pieces she was accompanied with sympathy and energy by Alisdair Hogarth. Her father Michael Hancock is the Wordsworths’ musical director; he and Charles Harrison gave an exciting performance of two of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances in the piano duet version. Some part songs about sailors and sweethearts by Vaughan Williams rounded off an interesting and very enjoyable programme.

In the light of Dumfries’ proposed application for City status, it is interesting to note that for this concert the audience was slightly outnumbered by the choir. Dumfries has many fine qualities. However, a community where less than two dozen people are interested in just-off-mainstream classical music superbly performed: this cannot be classed as a city.


020309darknesslightFrom Darkness to Light

St Andrew's Church, Greystoke
9 March 2002

The Wordsworth Singers' first concert in Greystoke Church had an imaginative programme tracing the liturgical year from Ash Wednesday to Trinity Sunday. After a beautifully shaped performance of Morley's Nolo mortem the singers gave a persuasive account of Nicholson's less familiar O salutaris, which included a lovely soprano solo from Georgina Harland. A somewhat extravagant setting of Psalm 137 by Coleridge-Taylor explored a wide dynamic range, and the choir sang with passion and attention to detail in Rossini's O salutaris.

Byrd's Miserere mei headed a group of pieces for Holy Week. The suspensions in Lotti's Crucifixus might have been felt more intensely, and John IV of Portugal's Crux fidelis seemed somewhat restrained. However, the kid gloves came off for a fervent performance of Pablo Casals' O vos omnes.

After the interval Byrd's rhythmically complex Haec dies was tightly controlled and confidently sung. The first of three movements from Adrian Self’s Christus Victor was characterised by irregular rhythms and was sung with great energy by the ladies. The gentlemen blended well in the sustained phrases of the second movement, while the third, scored for full choir, built a sense of excitement.

After a lovely performance of Tallis' If ye love me the concert concluded with Harris' Faire is the Heaven, performed with technical assurance and a real sense of commitment.


020112dulcijubiloIn Dulci Jubilo

St Cuthbert's Church, Carlisle
13 January 2002

In dulci jubilo was the Wordsworth Singers' joyful reminder of Christmas choral music.
The rich tonal qualities of the choir and well balanced harmonious sound were well maintained throughout.

The programme started with Riu, riu, chiu which introduced a number of solo voices and lively chorus to set the tone. A delight was Palestrina's Dies sanctificatus where the choir excelled in performing the polyphonic harmonies of the composition. This quality was continued in Bach's harmonies of O Jesulein süss and Praetorius's In dulci jubilo.

The audience was then treated to the wonderful talents of Helen Thomson performing Respighi's Siciliana and Godefroid's Etude de Consert Op 193 on the harp. The choice of music complemented the Singers' programme and showed the versatility of the harp and high competency of the harpist.

A confident start to the second half was a performance of Harold East's version of There Is No Rose. The strong start set the mood for the second half of the concert producing a fuller sound strengthening the dynamic range of the choir.

An interesting programme and good quality performance from soloists and choir proved an enjoyable concert with the added serenity of the harp.